Conversion: How God Creates a People”, by Dr. Michael Lawrence, pastor of Hinson Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon, is one book in the 9Marks series of “Building Healthy Churches”.

I selected to review this book because I’m also reading another book about conversion at the time, and I know these series of books are relatively short, quick reads.  That is true of this book, but it is packed full of hard-hitting truth in relatively a brief introduction, 8 chapters, and conclusion.

As the title suggests, the book covers a biblical understanding of true conversion.  I cannot say enough good about this book, as it punches square in the nose many of the problems seen in the church related to false conversions.

Chapter 1: “New, Not Nice” explains that we are made altogether “new”, not merely functionally “nice” upon our conversion.  Converts must be completely regenerated (something God does), and not merely reformed better versions of our past selves.  Merely being nice is not the same thing as being right with God.

Chapter 2: “Saved, Not Sincere” addresses the issue of our not being saved by sincerity or intense emotions, but only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.  Anything else makes salvation about us rather than about God’s glory.

Chapter 3: “Disciples, Not Decisions” focuses on a biblical understanding of repentance.  Faith requires churches to make disciples, not decisions.

Chapter 4: “Holy, Not Healed” (my favorite) deals hard blows to the false “therapeutic gospel”, which is no gospel at all.  This false gospel is prevalent in the church today, and is so common that is goes largely unrecognizable as being false.  The therapeutic gospel suggests Jesus came to give you a better marriage, a more successful career, to make you a better parent, etc.  While truly following Jesus may lead to those results, there is no guarantee any or all will happen.  This gospel is me-centered, rather than God-centered.  Instead, the true gospel calls us to the lordship of Christ, setting us apart to a new master and a new love.

Chapter 5: “Distinct, Not Designed” discusses that no action, word, or deed other than our love for fellow Christians will the world know the church is distinctly different from the world.  And when the world sees our love for those who dislike us, then it will see the church is radically different.

Chapter 6: “Summon, Don’t Sell” The call to evangelize calls us to proclaim the gospel plainly, honestly, urgently, and confidently.  Our role is not to “seal the deal”, for that is God’s doing.  Don’t sugar-coat or soften the challenges the gospel declares.

Chapter 7: “Assess Before You Assure” deals with difficulty of balancing false assurances of genuine faith in others, and discerning true faith.  Faith is a living, active hope and trust that produces a pattern of growth.  Give others the benefit of the doubt, and encourage them when you see evidences of grace.  At the same time, be careful about giving false assurance.

Chapter 8: “Charitable, Not Chary” deals with the difficulty of sinners within the church.  The church is not for those who have already arrived in heaven, but for those whose longings are for heaven.  The church calls the immature, the imperfect, the weak, the hurt, and the scandalous to her – not to remain there, but to grow in her.  Note: “chary” means “reluctance to do something”.

RATING: I give “Conversion” 5 out of 5 stars.  It is truly a must-read, and would be an excellent read for new converts, as it reminds us to always check ourselves that we are in the faith.

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge free of charge from Crossway Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not forced to provide a positive review.


“Reformation Theology”, edited by Matthew Barrett (book review)

Those who enjoy “heady” theological reading will most likely receive a ton of benefit from this massive volume.  Numerous Reformed theologians, including Michael Horton, Graham Cole, and Carl Trueman, to name a few, have contributed to this work as principal authors.  The book, as Barrett explains, “provides a systematic summary of Reformation thought.”  If you’ve read or studied any other systematic theology works, then that word…systematic…should give you a good idea what you’re in for when you dive into this one.

I’m not a theologian of high-level academic education, but I am indeed a theologian in the sense that R.C. Sproul uses it: “Everyone’s a theologian”.  I am a theologian merely in the sense that I enjoy reading and studying theology and learning to apply it to all of life.  That said, Barrett writes, “This book is written in such a way that the specialist and the nonspecialist alike will enjoy it.”  Barrett went on to explain how academic specialists will benefit from Reformation Theology, and then continued, “Nonspecialists, however, will benefit the most.  Each chapter serves as an introduction to the doctrine at hand, explaining what the major Reformers believed, why they believed it, and what impact their beliefs had.” 

I write all of that in order to explain that the term “nonspecialist” is very likely limited in scope, rather than broadly applied to all “interested readers”.   When I first encountered the phrase, I thought I was the kind of nonspecialst Barrett in mind.  While reading, however, I quickly discovered that Barrett may actually have had Master’s and PhD level readers in mind, general practitioners with higher education, so to speak.  I’m no dummy, but I found that many of the concepts contained in the book required more than mere interest.  Instead, a good grounding in deeper theological matters is crucial. However, even given some difficulties, I still took away from this book some lasting theological truths that will continue to shape and sharpen my understanding of God’s Word.

According to Barrett, Reformation Theology was written because “At the center of the Reformation was a return to a gospel-centered, Word-centered church.  No question about it, this was the great need in the sixteenth-century church.”  I concur, and would add that this is the great need even today in the church.  Preachers abound who preach an easy-believism Jesus, a Jesus who merely wants to help us be successful or have better marriages, a Jesus who doesn’t require anything more from us than a slight wave of the hand on a Sunday morning to tell the preacher, “Yeah, I’m in.”  The Reformers, however, fought and died for the doctrinal purity of the Church, something far different than we’re accustomed to reading and hearing today.  Yet many today have allowed what the Reformers’ gave blood to obtain to slip away into obscurity.  For that reason, I’m thankful for the resurgence of great books and works on Reformation theology.

As a general outline, each chapter following the history of the Reformation introduces 17 theological concepts: Sola Scriptura, the Trinity, Predestination & Election, the Person of Christ, Sanctification, Eschatology, etc.  The chapters begin with an introduction to traditional Reformed views, followed by the evolution of what various reformers (such as Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, to name a few) have taught.  Each chapter typically concludes with a short portion allotted to dissenting opinions.

Recommendations: I think this book would be a great gift to one’s pastor who has interest in deeper theological writings.  I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Disclaimer: I received “Reformation Theology” free of charge from Crossway Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not forced to provide a positive review.


"Biblical Doctrine" by Dr. John MacArthur and Dr. Richard Mayhew (book review)

Drs. MacArthur and Mayhue teamed up to write an absolutely phenomenal, monstrous volume on biblical doctrine, which is a "systematic summary of Bible truth", as the subtitle suggests.  The book is divided into 10 chapters...but don't let that small number trick you...these are some very long chapters! well as lists of hymns and tables.

What I really liked about this book is its readability.  What I mean by that is this.  I've read some theological books that made my head spin.  One book in particular contained so many fancy words and ideas way above my head that it wasn't really all that enjoyable to read.  I had to have a dictionary handy!  But "Biblical Doctrine" is not like that.  Sure, there are some pretty lofty words and concepts, but I did not experience a sense of drudgery as I read through it.  The "headier" concepts, in my opinion, were explained very well.  To be sure, this book isn't particularly written for a new believer, but one must have at least a basic understanding of Christianity's theology.  But, if a reader is courageous enough, this volume would no doubt impart a vast amount of knowledge to him or her.

Now, for what I didn't like.  I received the e-version for free as a review copy.  I truly appreciate Crossway for giving it to me for free.  However, I think I need to buy the physical copy.  Reading it in Kindle is easy, but any further referencing is pert-near impossible.  Due to it's length, there are only shortcuts to the beginnings of each chapter.  So, if there's something one desires to look up, it will require much effort to find what it is one was looking for in the first place.

I need to explain one feature I liked before I explain a suggested improvement.  I liked the simple outlines of key words located on the very first page of each chapter, each of which briefly state what concepts will be covered in each chapter.  This makes the hunting for concepts much simpler, but would be much more user friendly if each of these introductory key words were quick-linked to their respective e-book locations.

Rating: Overall, I cannot help but give Biblical Doctrine 5 out of 5 stars for its value in the church, in personal studies, and its readability.  However, if you're going to Amazon to spend the $35 for the Kindle version, just do yourself a favor and pay the additional $8 for the hard copy of $41.  You'll be glad you did.

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from Crossway Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review of it.

"The Life of the Church", by Joe Thorn (book review)

Well, this is it: the third and final book review of the church trilogy by Joe Thorn.  I was encouraged by all three books equally well, as each touched on important topics within the body of Christ.

The Life of the Church is, once again, a short, quick read, spanning only 106 small pages.  It is broken up into three parts: (1)The Table, (2)The Pulpit, and (3)The Square.  The Table focuses three chapters on the community of believers within the local church, namely "small groups" where life happens more organically.  The Pulpit focuses the reader on preaching and worship over four chapters.  Finally, The Square, surrounded the concept of evangelism, or "the church in the world".

I think the most important chapters in this little book -- while I found something beneficial in each one -- is chapter 5: The Word in Worship.  Sadly, many churches today use the Bible in minimal ways, reading only small snippets that offer surface level encouragement.  While this can be somewhat helpful, these snippets can be dangerously taken out of context.  Additionally, many pastors only read a verse or two in order to proof-text what it is they want to speak about, rather than mining it for its instruction and wisdom.  Thorn, in chapter 5 and the following chapters in the Part, does a great job drawing the reader's attention to how the entire worship gathering must be centered upon God's Word.

I truly believe that book 1 ("The Heart of theChurch"), book 2 ("The Character of the Church"), and book 3 (“The Life of the Church”) will be good resources for a church's bookstore and in new member classes.  They are simple reading, not requiring much effort or time.  But they inspire the desire to dive deeper into various issues of interest.  So, the book (and the series) is perfect for the busy person who wants to read good theology is that isn't too "heady".

RATING: I give "The Life of the Church" 5 out of 5stars.  You'll want to pick up all three books if you're going to pick up even one!
DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from Moody Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review of it.


"The Character of the Church", by Joe Thorn (book review)

In his first book, "The Heart of the Church", Joe Thorn discusses the essentials of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In this second book of the trilogy, Joe Thorn, who pastors Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, Illinois, discusses what makes a church a TRUE church.

A plethora of congregations gather each week under the guise of being a church.  They boast of spirit-driven worship, enthusiastic speakers, and even communion.  But do those things make a church one that is true and healthy?  In "The Character of the Church", Thorn discusses just what identifies a body of people as a "church", rather than merely a social club.  While Dr. Mark Dever lists what he believes to be nine marks of a healthy church, Joe Thorn boils it down to just five.

Each of the five makes up a single "Part" of the book:
   1) The word rightly preached
   2) The ordinances rightly administered
   3) Leadership biblically formed and functioning
   4) Discipline practiced with grace
   5) The mission shared by all

Within each Part, there are anywhere from two to four chapters that further describe the individual part.  Two of the chapters that had a profound effect on my soul dealt with baptism and communion (chapters 4 and 5).  I grew up in a denomination that merely expressed these two ordinances as observations and "remembrances", rather than as means of grace.  Thorn explains, "Although baptism does not save, it preaches the gospel, announces the truth of Jesus Christ, and as such is a means of grace when received by faith."  He continues, "Baptism is not merely a religious rite with rich symbolism.  It is one of the means that God uses to work in us and make us who we are in Christ" (p.49).  Likewise, "...the Lord's Supper conveys grace as it communicates the truth of the gospel and is received by faith" (p.52). 

I continue to believe that book 1 ("The Heart of the Church") and book 2 ("The Character of the Church") will be good resources for a church's bookstore and in new member classes.  They are simple reading, not requiring much effort or time.  But they inspire the desire to dive deeper into various issues of interest.

RATING: I give "The Character of the Church" 5 out of 5stars.  I look forward to reading the third and last book of the series.

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from Moody Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review of it.


"The Heart of the Church: The Gospel's History, Message, and Meaning", by Joe Thorn (book review)

Joe Thorn writes, "The gospel is the heart of the church.  It's not simply one thing we believe, but the defining truth for the Christian and the church" (p.105).  Replaced by feel-good messages and motivational speeches, the true message of the gospel is missing in many churches today.  More and more professing Christians are growing increasingly biblically illiterate to even the fundamental truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  And that is why I believe Thorn has written this book, which is book one of the series: The HEART of the Church, The CHARACTER of the Church, and The LIFE of the Church.

I first encountered Joe Thorn's writing in TableTalk magazine, published by Ligonier Ministries.  I typically wait to read the author's name in those articles until I've finished the article.  That way I'm not biased for or against any one author in particular.  I repeatedly find myself liking the articles he's written.  Why?  Because he writes so simply, but so very truthfully and thoughtfully.

This book is no different, and here's how I would describe it. Imagine Wayne Grudem's tome, "Systematic Theology", which is well over 1,000 pages long.  Single chapters on Justification, Sanctification, and Forgiveness, for example, can be quite lengthy and deeply described.  This one is just the opposite: It is very short, sweet, and simple.  While there are some big Bible words (i.e. doctrines) inside, Thorn does an excellent job explaining their meanings and import.

The book is broken down into three parts: (1) The History of the Gospel (3 chapters, 20 pages), (2) The Doctrine of the Gospel (6 chapters, 26 pages), and the (3) The God of the Gospel (5 chapters, 22 pages).  I was inspired and encouraged by chapter 8 on "Sanctification".  I agree wholeheartedly with Thorn when he writes, "Putting sin to death and pursuing righteousness is what sanctification looks like in the life of a believer" (p. 69).  Sanctification is something that simultaneously troubles and encourages me.  I don't want to just be forgiven.  I want to be different; radically changed.  I can trust that God will see my sanctification through, because the change that I crave is a work started AND completed by God Himself.  Thorn encourages readers, "Sanctification is the work of God in which we participate by His grace" (p. 67-68). 

This book -- and I'm fairly certain the series in whole -- will be one that churches WILL want to make available in their bookstores or reader kiosks.  It's that important for today's busy person who doesn't have or make much time to read good, trustworthy books.  (I completed this one in two relatively short sittings.)  I think "The Heart of the Church" should at least whet the appetite of Christians whom the Holy Spirit is pushing in sanctifying growth to be in God's word.  Thorn writes, "God does not do this work [sanctification] in us arbitrarily.  He does it through the ministry of the word."  I hope and pray this book will inspire many to get their noses into God's holy, inspired, and infallible word.

RATING: I give "The Heart of the Church" 5 out of 5 stars.  It is gospel-centered, clear, and concise.  Well done, Joe Thorn.  I look forward to reading the other two!

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from Moody Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review of it.

Author Bio: Joe Thorn is the founding and Lead Pastor of Redeemer Fellowship in St. Charles, IL. He has written two books, Note to Self: The Disciple of Preaching to Yourself, and Experiencing the Trinity: The Grace of God for the People of God, and has contributed articles for the ESV Men's Devotion Bible, The ESV Story Bible, and The Mission of God Study Bible. He is currently writing a series of three books on the church for Moody Publishers.


"The Coming Apostasy", by Mark Hitchcock & Jeff Kinley (book review)

In their new book, Mark Hitchcock and Jeff Kinley discuss apostasy and its dangerous effects in the church.  The reader must first understand that Hitchcock and Kinley approach apostasy from the pre-millennial, pre-tribulation rapture point-of-view.  I'm not arguing for or against that view, but their approach is that the ever-increasing apostasy that is now already upon us is coming in greater intensity.

It is not a "heady" read, but is a rather simple read.  Mature believers who are familiar with Christian doctrine and theology will be able to speed read or skim through this book rather quickly.  For those who are not to that point, the information contained is quite worth reading and learning, and will be easy to understand without much struggle at all.

Some of the things I appreciate about this book is that they plainly tell the reader that theology -- what we believer -- really matters (p.18); that they explain further that while biblical belief matters, this belief cannot be merely "spiritual nodding of the head" (p.43); that having sound truth is our protection against the devil's lies (p.57); that they confront false teachers for what they are and for what they teach in their intentional or unintentional deceptions (p.59); and that they call sin what it is: sin (p.92)!

Some may wonder why I highlight these areas.  In a day and age when people twist the truth to make it palatable for their tastes, this book is refreshingly uncompromising in its presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

There's not a lot I didn't like about it.  However, their use of the Message Translation of the Bible was troublesome to me.  Any preacher or author who quotes, cites, or otherwise uses the Message Translation instantly loses credibility with me.  It doesn't make me throw out the baby with the bathwater, so to speak, but it is a trouble spot for me.  Clearly, the Message is not a reliable translation, as it distorts many key passages of Scripture.  To be fair, though, they didn't use it as the predominant source, but it was used frequently enough to make my eye twitch.

RATING: I give this one 3 1/2 stars.  Not a bad read, but not a fantastic read that challenged my thinking much at all.  That doesn't mean it's not a good read for someone, but it's simply that I would have been disappointed if I had spent the suggested retail price of $15.99 USD for it.

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from Blogging for Books in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not forced to provide a positive or negative review of it.


"God the Son Incarnate", by Stephen J. Wellum (book review)

Make no mistake, "God the Son Incarnate" is a MASSIVE TOME on Christology...the study of Jesus.  Comprised of four parts, divided into 14 chapters, this volume was thoroughly researched.  How thorough, you ask?  There are 1,317 end note citations.  Simply phenomenal effort went into producing this book.

Dr. Wellum, who is the Professor of Christian Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, takes readers carefully, academically, deeply into the study of who Jesus the Messiah is.  He explores the harmful effects that philosophical, scientific, and religious evolutions in thought processes has had upon Christology, all the way to delving into the mystery of the distinctions between his divinity and humanity.

Don't be fooled, this one is no easy read.  It is very technical, scholarly, and not one that would be considered a "page turner" by most peoples' accounts.  However, if you're looking for a great gift for your pastor, or maybe a seminarian, this may well be one for their library.  It will no doubt prove to be an effective tool for their study.

RATING: I give "God the Son Incarnate" 5 out of 5 stars for its deeply scholarly, well researched documentation of Christology.

DISCLAIMER: I received this book in ebook format free of charge from Crossway in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not forced to provide a positive review of it.